KCK woman pleads guilty to carjacking

A Kansas City, Kansas, woman pleaded guilty in federal court today to stealing a vehicle at gunpoint from the parking garage at the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.

Maricela Delores Lozano, 21, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs to one count of carjacking and one count of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

By pleading guilty today, Lozano admitted that she used a Century Arms Draco AK 47-style 9mm pistol during the theft of a Nissan Altima on July 19, 2020.

Lozano approached the owner of the Altima, who was attempting to start her vehicle to leave the parking garage of the Country Club Plaza, at about 5:48 p.m. on July 19, 2020. Lozano brandished the AK 47-style pistol, pointed it at the victim, and demanded her keys and cell phone, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Western District of Missouri.

The victim complied and walked away from the vehicle to a nearby business and used its phone to call the police, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Lozano later told investigators that she got into the driver’s seat and attempted to start the vehicle, but the ignition was a “push to start,” which confused Lozano because she had never encountered such technology. Once Lozano was able to start the vehicle, she drove out of the parking garage. Lozano stole a license plate from a Chevrolet sport utility vehicle and attached it to the Nissan, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Lozano, who was standing beside the stolen vehicle, was spotted by a Missouri State Highway Patrol corporal in a driveway in Fulton, Missouri, on July 21, 2020. When the officer drove toward her, she got into the vehicle and attempted to flee. The officer stopped the vehicle and arrested Lozano and a male passenger. The officer seized the loaded firearm from the floorboard behind the driver’s seat.

Under federal statutes, Lozano is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole, the U.S. attorney’s office stated. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Marquez. It was investigated by the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the FBI.

Federal charges filed against restaurant owner, managers in multi-state RICO case

The owner of dozens of Mexican restaurants in several states, along with the company’s president, chief financial officer, controller and sales manager, were among 19 defendants charged in a federal racketeering case to hire undocumented workers.

The case was filed in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri. Eight current or former managers also were charged in the case, including one in Overland Park, Kansas. There were 64 counts listed in the indictment. No individuals at Wyandotte County restaurants were named as defendants.

Homeland Security Investigations agents, with the assistance of numerous local, states, and federal agencies, executed a series of search warrants today at 10 locations in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Federal agents have so far arrested 14 of the 19 defendants.

The federal indictment alleges that 17 of the 19 co-defendants were part of an organized criminal enterprise from July 2003 to Aug. 10, 2021, that smuggled Mexican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadoran nationals who were not authorized to live or work in the United States. Conspirators allegedly harbored them in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Charges were brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Jose Luis Bravo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Claremore, Oklahoma, was alleged to have, with other persons, created a network of restaurants operating as LLCs in states in the Midwest. According to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri, they allegedly did not pay the appropriate state and federal payroll taxes, did not pay overtime and worker’s compensation for unauthorized employees.

Bravo, identified in the indictment as the leader of the enterprise, is the owner of Specialty Food Distribution in Joplin, Missouri. Bravo is also the owner of a group of restaurants registered as Bravos Group, LLC, including El Charro, El Charrito, Playa Azul, Itza, LLC, Cantina Bravo, and El Chango. Specialty Food Distribution is a wholesale distributor of food, supplies, and equipment to restaurants throughout the Midwest.

The federal indictment named a person who until recently was the manager of Bravos Mexican Grill in Overland Park, Kansas.

According to the federal indictment, the investigation began when the Kansas Department of Labor contacted Homeland Security Investigations regarding allegations that unauthorized aliens were employed at the Bravos Mexican Grill in Overland Park.

When HSI announced a Form I-9 inspection on July 16, 2018, agents discovered that 14 of the 17 Bravos employees whose I-9 forms had been inspected were ineligible to work, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. During another inspection of Bravos on Feb. 28, 2019, agents identified eight unauthorized aliens working there. Five of those employees had been identified previously as ineligible to work.

The indictment also contains forfeiture allegations against several defendants, which would require them to forfeit to the government the funds contained in several bank accounts as well as real estate located in Great Bend, Pittsburg, and Augusta in Kansas; Butler, Joplin, and West Plains in Missouri; and Claremore, Okmulgee, Muskogee, Enid, and Tahlequah in Oklahoma.

KCK man pleads guilty in heroin case

A Kansas City, Kansas, man pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to his role in a conspiracy to distribute more than three kilograms of heroin that was intercepted by law enforcement officers when it was shipped from California to Kansas City, Missouri.

Solomon B. Hawthorne, 31, pleaded guilty before U.S. Chief District Judge Beth Phillips to participating in a conspiracy to possess heroin with the intent to distribute.

According to court documents, a Kansas City, Missouri, police detective intercepted a suspicious package at a local FedEx facility. The package, which was being shipped from California to a Kansas City, Missouri, address, contained a black metal safe. Inside the safe were three bundles of a total of 3.179 kilograms of heroin.

An undercover law enforcement officer conducted a controlled delivery of the package on Nov. 20, 2020. The undercover detective knocked on the front door of the residence but no one answered. He placed the package on the steps of the porch and officers initiated surveillance.

In less than an hour, an individual arrived via Uber and began continuously walking the block, texting and talking on his cell phone for a couple of hours, appearing to be keeping an eye on the parcel. At one point, he walked up to the house and repositioned the parcel on the porch in order to conceal it from the street.

A couple of hours later, Hawthorne arrived, driving a 2016 Dodge Ram truck. The individual got into Hawthorne’s truck and they drove around the block before pulling into the driveway of the residence. Hawthorne and the other individual were taken into custody.

When officers searched Hawthorne’s truck, they found a large clear storage bag that contained approximately 134.04 grams of heroin. They also found a black bag that contained $48,680 in cash and a Glock 9mm magazine with 10 rounds of ammunition. Another Glock 9mm magazine, which contained 15 rounds of ammunition, was found in a hidden compartment underneath the dashboard.

According to court documents, Hawthorne had conducted similar transactions twice over the previous few months and had paid approximately $100,000 to purchase heroin that was shipped to Kansas City.

Under federal statutes, Hawthorne is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing is scheduled on Dec. 16, 2021.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily A. Morgan. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, and the MoWIN Task Force.